Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
Overview of the case
By resolution ES-10/14, adopted on 8 December 2003 at its Tenth Emergency Special Session, the General Assembly decided to request the Court for an advisory opinion on the following question :
“What are the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, as described in the Report of the Secretary-General, considering the rules and principles of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions ?”
The resolution requested the Court to render its opinion “urgently”. The Court decided that all States entitled to appear before it, as well as Palestine, the United Nations and subsequently, at their request, the League of Arab States and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, were likely to be able to furnish information on the question in accordance with Article 66, paragraphs 2 and 3, of the Statute. Written statements were submitted by 45 States and four international organizations, including the European Union. At the oral proceedings, which were held from 23 to 25 February 2004, 12 States, Palestine and two international organizations made oral submissions. The Court rendered its Advisory Opinion on 9 July 2004.
The Court began by finding that the General Assembly, which had requested the advisory opinion, was authorized to do so under Article 96, paragraph 1, of the Charter. It further found that the question asked of it fell within the competence of the General Assembly pursuant to Articles 10, paragraph 2, and 11 of the Charter. Moreover, in requesting an opinion of the Court, the General Assembly had not exceeded its competence, as qualified by Article 12, paragraph 1, of the Charter, which provides that while the Security Council is exercising its functions in respect of any dispute or situation the Assembly must not make any recommendation with regard thereto unless the Security Council so requests. The Court further observed that the General Assembly had adopted resolution ES-10/14 during its Tenth Emergency Special Session, convened pursuant to resolution 377 A (V), whereby, in the event that the Security Council has failed to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, the General Assembly may consider the matter immediately with a view to making recommendations to Member States. Rejecting a number of procedural objections, the Court found that the conditions laid down by that resolution had been met when the Tenth Emergency Special Session was convened, and in particular when the General Assembly decided to request the opinion, as the Security Council had at that time been unable to adopt a resolution concerning the construction of the wall as a result of the negative vote of a permanent member. Lastly, the Court rejected the argument that an opinion could not be given in the present case on the ground that the question posed was not a legal one, or that it was of an abstract or political nature.
Having established its jurisdiction, the Court then considered the propriety of giving the requested opinion. It recalled that lack of consent by a State to its contentious jurisdiction had no bearing on its advisory jurisdiction, and that the giving of an opinion in the present case would not have the effect of circumventing the principle of consent to judicial settlement, since the subject-matter of the request was located in a much broader frame of reference than that of the bilateral dispute between Israel and Palestine, and was of direct concern to the United Nations. Nor did the Court accept the contention that it should decline to give the advisory opinion requested because its opinion could impede a political, negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It further found that it had before it sufficient information and evidence to enable it to give its opinion, and empha- sized that it was for the General Assembly to assess the opinion’s usefulness. The Court accordingly concluded that there was no compelling reason precluding it from giving the requested opinion.
Turning to the question of the legality under international law of the construction of the wall by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Court first determined the rules and principles of international law relevant to the question posed by the General Assembly. After recalling the customary principles laid down in Article 2, paragraph 4, of the United Nations Charter and in General Assembly resolution 2625 (XXV), which prohibit the threat or use of force and emphasize the illegality of any territorial acquisition by such means, the Court further cited the principle of self-determination of peoples, as enshrined in the Charter and reaffirmed by resolution 2625 (XXV). In relation to international humanitarian law, the Court then referred to the provisions of the Hague Regulations of 1907, which it found to have become part of customary law, as well as to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, holding that these were applicable in those Palestinian territories which, before the armed conflict of 1967, lay to the east of the 1949 Armistice demarcation line (or “Green Line”) and were occupied by Israel during that conflict. The Court further established that certain human rights instruments (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) were applicable in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The Court then sought to ascertain whether the construction of the wall had violated the above-mentioned rules and principles. Noting that the route of the wall encompassed some 80 per cent of the settlers living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Court, citing statements by the Security Council in that regard in relation to the Fourth Geneva Convention, recalled that those settlements had been established in breach of international law. After considering certain fears expressed to it that the route of the wall would prejudge the future frontier between Israel and Palestine, the Court observed that the construction of the wall and its associated régime created a “fait accompli” on the ground that could well become permanent, and hence tantamount to a de facto annexation. Noting further that the route chosen for the wall gave expression in loco to the illegal measures taken by Israel with regard to Jerusalem and the settlements and entailed further alterations to the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Court concluded that the construction of the wall, along with measures taken previously, severely impeded the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination and was thus a breach of Israel’s obligation to respect that right.
The Court then went on to consider the impact of the construction of the wall on the daily life of the inhabitants of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, finding that the construction of the wall and its associated régime were contrary to the relevant provisions of the Hague Regulations of 1907 and of the Fourth Geneva Convention and that they impeded the liberty of movement of the inhabitants of the territory as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as their exercise of the right to work, to health, to education and to an adequate standard of living as proclaimed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Court further found that, coupled with the establishment of settlements, the construction of the wall and its associated régime were tending to alter the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, thereby contravening the Fourth Geneva Convention and the relevant Security Council resolutions. The Court then considered the qualifying clauses or provisions for derogation contained in certain humanitarian law and human rights instruments, which might be invoked inter alia where military exigencies or the needs of national security or public order so required. The Court found that such clauses were not applicable in the present case, stating that it was not convinced that the specific course Israel had chosen for the wall was necessary to attain its security objectives, and that accordingly the construction of the wall constituted a breach by Israel of certain of its obligations under humanitarian and human rights law. Lastly, the Court concluded that Israel could not rely on a right of self-defence or on a state of necessity in order to preclude the wrongfulness of the construction of the wall, and that such construction and its associated régime were accordingly contrary to international law.
The Court went on to consider the consequences of these violations, recalling Israel’s obligation to respect the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and its obligations under humanitarian and human rights law. The Court stated that Israel must put an immediate end to the violation of its international obligations by ceasing the works of construction of the wall and dismantling those parts of that structure situated within Occupied Palestinian Territory and repealing or rendering ineffective all legislative and regulatory acts adopted with a view to construction of the wall and establishment of its associated régime. The Court further made it clear that Israel must make reparation for all damage suffered by all natural or legal persons affected by the wall’s construction. As regards the legal consequences for other States, the Court held that all States were under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction. It further stated that it was for all States, while respecting the United Nations Charter and international law, to see to it that any impediment, resulting from the construction of the wall, to the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination be brought to an end. In addition, the Court pointed out that all States parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention were under an obligation, while respecting the Charter and international law, to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention. Finally, in regard to the United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, the Court indicated that they should consider what further action was required to bring to an end the illegal situation in question, taking due account of the present Advisory Opinion.
The Court concluded by observing that the construction of the wall must be placed in a more general context, noting the obligation on Israel and Palestine to comply with international humanitarian law, as well as the need for implementation in good faith of all relevant Security Council resolutions, and drawing the attention of the General Assembly to the need for efforts to be encouraged with a view to achieving a negotiated solution to the outstanding problems on the basis of international law and the establishment of a Palestinian State.
This overview is provided for information only and in no way involves the responsibility of the Court.